FAYETTEVILLE — David Hurd and Brey Cook understand the challenge the Arkansas offensive line faces at South Carolina on Saturday.
The starting tackles have gotten a good look at Gamecocks defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor on film. They’re aware of their size, speed and athleticism. They know the duo is capable of wrecking an offensive gameplan, watching them blow up plays and sack quarterbacks this season.
So, Hurd said he and the Cook understand what must happen in Columbia, S.C.
"We’ve done good. We haven’t done great," Hurd said about the offensive line’s performance so far this season. "We need to be great this game."
Arkansas’ offensive line – tackles Cook, Hurd and Jason Peacock in particular — is facing, arguably, its toughest test of the season when the Razorbacks (4-5, 2-3 in Southeastern Conference) play the Gamecocks (7-2, 5-2 in SEC) on Saturday.
Clowney has earned his status as one of the SEC’s top defensive players as a sophomore, collecting 8 ½ sacks and 15 tackles for losses in nine games. Taylor, a senior, has been solid was well with 6 tackles for losses and 2 ½ sacks.
Together, they form one of the top defensive end tandems in the country. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier believes they may be the best. Either way, the Razorbacks are paying special attention in preparation this week.
"Their defensive ends are good pass rushers," said Cook, who replaced Peacock in the starting lineup after a four-game absence last week. "They’ve had success in the past. We’ve got to really practice hard this week and focus and watch the film and get to know them as players and see what we can do to stop them."
The performance will be especially significant considering Arkansas has had some issues protecting Wilson this season. While the Razorbacks haven’t allowed many sacks — Arkansas has the third-lowest sacks allowed total in the nation — the quarterback has had to pick himself off the turf on numerous occasions.
The Louisiana-Monroe loss, where Wilson suffered a concussion and missed the Alabama game, was the first indicator. It continued to be evident last Saturday, when Wilson hit the deck after a hard shot on the first play from scrimmage and was slow to get up on several other plays. The Razorbacks only allowed one sack in the win, but protection problems had an effect on some pass game struggles.
Wilson said it’s part of playing the position Monday. His confidence in the offensive line hasn’t wavered despite the hits he has absorbed in eight games.
"I’ve got to have faith in my guys and stand up there and battle with them, fight them," Wilson said. "I’ve got to stand in and do my job. A lot of what I do is not worrying about what they’re doing up front. I’ve got to have faith and trust that my guys are going to battle. I know they will, because we have pride."
Wilson did point to the fact Tulsa led the nation in sacks a game (4.4) before managing just one against Arkansas. The Razorbacks also kept Texas A&M — which had the SEC’s sack leader Damontre Moore — without one.
South Carolina enters Saturday’s game leading the SEC in sacks a game (30) and is ranked No. 7 in the nation in sacks a game (3.3). So Hurd said Arkansas, while understanding the challenge, is confident it can deliver a solid performance again.
"They line up and play and that’s what we are going to do," Hurd said. "We are going to line up and go right at them. We are not going to back down from this fight."
South Carolina’s 38-35 win against Tennessee is proof it’s easier said than done.
The Volunteers — who have allowed an SEC-low four sacks this season — did a solid job of keeping Clowney quiet throughout most of the high-scoring game. But the defensive end broke through when it mattered most late in the fourth quarter, sacking quarterback Tyler Bray and forcing a fumble after the Volunteers had moved inside the South Carolina 20-yard line.
Clowney returns from the bye week tied for second in the SEC in sacks.
"He’s a good player that plays hard," Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said of Clowney. "He’s got a couple of good moves that he uses. He’s a good player so we have got to do a good job of cutting him and chipping him and having people hit him from all directions, try to keep his head on a swivel."
It’s a big challenge for Hurd, Cook and the rest of the Arkansas offensive line.
But Wilson is confident they’ll produce in an important road game.
"They’re going to stick together," Wilson said. "They’re going to continue to fight, continue to battle and they’re going to keep my clean this week."